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Stinger-PR's DAWN of an era: A NCL Dawn review (Thanksgiving week 2018)

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“For what human ill does not DAWN seem to be an alleviation?”

-Thornton Wilder-

 

(An what an alleviation the Dawn was for us indeed!!)

 

Hey guys!! Welcome to my review of my cruise aboard the Norwegian Dawn on Thanksgiving week, Nov. 18-25, 2018 out of San Juan, PR. I’m still getting over my PCD (Post Cruise Depression) and as I write this and reminisce about those too few days, it only gets worse. So, what do I do? Easy. I start planning another cruise...LOL!! This was my fourth cruise but only the second along with my DW. It was also our first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line and didn’t know what to expect with their Freestyle Cruising. And although in the end we had a great time, we were a bit nervous because there was so much lack of good, recent information about the Dawn and I felt as if we were almost going in blind. CC has spoiled me into going on cruises well informed about ships and destinations that this time, it was a bit nerve-wracking having so many “we’ll see…” things in mind. We were very surprised and surprisingly satisfied with the Dawn and its crew and we hope we get to sail on her again someday soon!

 

Disclaimer:

 

Opinions vary from person to person and what you will read here are my opinions, thoughts, experiences and those of my wife in some instances. They might not be the same as yours and even if you traveled on the same sailing as us, you might have experienced things differently. I can sometimes be opinionated and most times I try to be funny about it all. But in the end I do hope that our opinions help some and entertain others.

 

If you have read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I work in the hospitality/gaming industry and therefore I might sometimes be very (maybe even too) critical of guest services, crew attitude and things like that. You might think it’s ranting or nit-picking but trust me, after 24 years in the business I know that the devil is in the details and even though you might not consciously care, details do start to stack up when not done right and they do mess with your experience. Yes, there were a few things that were off. It wasn’t all perfect as you’ll see when I get into details. But nothing was so major that it lessened our enjoyment of the cruise.

 

Now, there might also be some differences from other sailings of the Dawn from San Juan since not all are scheduled to be the same in length and itinerary as ours. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the sailing right after the one we took was a 10-day itinerary followed by an 11-day which included stops in the A-B-C islands as well as the ones we visited (at least I think that was the order).

 

I will also be doing a bit of comparison between this trip and my previous cruises which had similar destinations. All my previous cruises have been with Carnival Cruise Line on the Southern Caribbean route out of San Juan. Even though we have previously visited most of the islands on this itinerary with Carnival (Carnival doesn’t usually stop at Antigua when sailing from SJ), we decided against booking with Carnival because we wanted a new ship. Royal Caribbean also has the Freedom of the Seas sailing from PR, but it didn’t seem as a better value for our “all-of-a-sudden” budget. NCL’s Dawn slotted right between the Fascination and the FOTS and even though there’s a lot of discussion about the “value” of the free perks on NCL, it worked great for us in the end. The ship experience will be different from those previous reviews, but you’ll still find reference for info on what to do on the islands (well at least I’d hope so!).

 

Another difference from other reviews out there (for the Dawn or otherwise) is that I am local to Puerto Rico. That means that I will not be writing about the experience of going through the airports, airlines, staying at any hotel, taxis, etc. Anyhow, if you have any questions about these topics, feel free to ask whatever you like, and I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge.

 

When I started with this cruise bug, I got TONS of ideas and information from other reviewers who shared their experiences like Mitsugirly, pghsteelerfan, among others. Some are still posting, some since retired or on hiatus from cruising and/or CC. But since the info I gathered from reading those reviews helped me further the enjoyment of my travels, I always try to pay it forward in case my experience can help someone else have a better one themselves.

 

Also, while I try to be comprehensive in the info I gather and the pictures I take, please be aware that we’re still on vacation. So there might be some things I missed because, well… I was having fun!! Also, we had the Specialty Dining Package for three nights, which means the menus for the MDR will likely be missing for those nights, although I did save all the dailies for you guys.

 

I’ll also try to post as soon as I can, as quickly as I can. These things take time to put together and life happens and can sometimes get in the way. So, please be patient if you don’t see the whole thing posted in three days. I never leave my reviews incomplete so I won’t leave you hanging.

 

That being said… on to the review.

 

Pre-cruise:

 

This cruise basically came out of nowhere for us. We are currently doing some home renovations, including fixing up damage from last year’s hurricane Maria. We had already budgeted and put aside some cash in case something went over budget (as usually happens). Although the renovations are still ongoing, we have basically signed all contracts for the remaining work and GASP!!! nothing will actually go too much over budget so that means we got some moolah left after all. So, what does my DW do? She turns to me and says something along the lines of “after all this and what’s still to come, we need a vacation. Honey, go book a cruise!” (I might've said Hell yeah!!!! No less than an hour later I had the info on prices that we needed and sat down to discuss the options. I still had some personal time at work and she was getting Thanksgiving week off from hers so we decided to cruise on that week since the timing was perfect for us.

 

I had never even looked at cruises for Thanksgiving week until this opportunity came along and I was amazed that (At least sailings from San Juan) prices weren’t really that bad. I was truly expecting them to be higher, specially in PR since a lot of people have days off during that week.

 

Carnival was dirt cheap and came in around $700-something per person including taxes, fees and gratuities for an inside cabin with no extra amenities. FOTS was way up there since insides showed as sold out (or blocked maybe? RCI has a HUGE presence here in PR with local travel agents). So, they had ocean view and upward cabins starting at around $1000 per person including fees, taxes and gratuities. NCL had the “Free at Sea” promotion where Ocean View cabins and up received at least two perks “free”. We opted for NCL and the Dawn and opted for the “free” 3-day Ultimate Dining package and the Unlimited Beverage Package (UBP) and alas!! not all “free stuff” is free. There was a $100-something gratuities per person added to your fare if you opted for the UBP. We were fine with this since the regular charge for the UBP is $99 per person, per day PLUS 20% gratuity so for us it made a heck of a lot of sense to just pay the gratuities. The cost was just over $2,100 (or $1,050 per person) including taxes, fees and all gratuities (for the cruise and the UBP). Although NCL had the highest overall cost, we thought we had the best net value on NCL. This “free/not free” thing has garnered a lot of discussion here on CC about “misrepresentation” of what the promo really means but in the end, we saved money  and that’s all I really care about.

 

So, our sailing ended up being the first sailing of the Dawn from San Juan for its winter season, coming from her reposition trip from Boston, MA. Our itinerary would be a 7 night cruise with stops at Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas. We also ended up booking an OK (class) Obstructed Ocean View cabin on deck 8. DW wanted me to get an inside but I convinced her to get an OV for one extra “perk” and we also got $160 of OBC with the offer at the time. I looked at the available rooms on some deck plans and chose cabin 8566 because it was one of the four cabins (two on each side) with the least obstructed view since the lifeboat in front of the window was smaller and had no roof cover, hence visibility wasn’t THAT much obstructed. But a few days after booking (I booked about 50 days out) I received an email with an “invitation” to bid for an upgrade. I took the bait and bid just over the minimum for a balcony cabin upgrade. This had me going crazy, logging in to NCL.com, looking for a “congratulations” message or doing mock bookings to see the remaining inventory, hoping to see lots of balcony cabins still unsold (which I did). Finally, 9 days before sailing I received an email stating that my bid was accepted and was moved to an aft balcony (not aft-facing) cabin #9196. SCORE!! A few minutes later I had all my cruise docs all printed out and my luggage tags with their info filled. Yeah, I was that exited!!!

 

The day before we were to sail I had my suitcase all ready and kindda felt it a bit light. But I could not put my finger on why it was. Heck, I even had some space left. I thought it was due to packing smaller clothing than usual since I had lost over 40 lbs since the last time I cruised and was wearing one size smaller clothes than last time (as if that made any real difference). Little did I know that this “I feel lighter” would come into play a few times later in the cruise in multiple ways. Ughh...even writing this I feel like slapping myself. You’ll see…

 

After doing some research I ended up buying three things specifically to take on this cruise and eventual cruises. One were some cruise luggage tags. Last trip the paper tags were almost ripped off my bags and being an over-worrier some times, I told myself that I wouldn’t risk it.

 

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This held up perfectly this time.


Another item was a non-surge protected multi plug thingy which almost didn’t fit on the only American 120V outlet in the room (there’s actually another for electric razors in the bathroom).

 

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Although I forgot to take a picture of it actually plugged in but all I can say is that it was a tight, tight fit. Also, unless your chargers are very slim, it’s almost impossible to fit three chargers at at time, but we had no problem connecting two to the regular outlets and two more devices using the USB outlets provided for a total of 4 devices.

 

Last but not least, after reading all the controversy and outrage about cruise lines doing away with drinking straws, I decided to buy a set of stainless steel straws. The set included 8 straight, narrow tubes, 4 straight wider ones and 4 bent tubes, along with two brushes to clean them on the inside. At 10.5” they ended up being to long for almost any glass that NCL served us in (which varied from plastic to glass, small to tall) and we ended up not using them that much unless we knew we were going to order frozen drinks. Also carrying them was a bit of a hassle sometimes, even if they were only two. So either I get shorter straws or I simply leave them at home next time and simply adapt.


 

One thing that never, ever, ever goes into my suitcase is my photo equipment. I have a 55L backpack that gobbles up a LOT of stuff. I decided to put all the photo equipment I was taking on it so I could have it with me all the time during embarkation. And after this trip I vowed to leave most of it home next time. If you’re into photography and you already have been once (or more) to a place, you start to think about photo ops, specific shots of specific places and specific angles. Theory is one thing, practicality and what happens once you’re there is something else altogether.

 

I have (and took with me) a Canon SX50HS bridge camera with UV and CPL filters, a Nikon AW100 (for underwater, now my secondary UW camera), an Olympus TG4 also for underwater photography (primary for underwater, mostly due to RAW shooting capability). I also took for its maiden snorkel trip an Apeman A80 action cam (GoPro clone with great capabilities and comparable qualities that I TOTALLY managed to mess up!) and finally my Galaxy S7 smartphone (in which I alternate taking jpeg and RAW pictures). In the end, the Canon is getting to bulky for cruising for me and having FIVE chargers, plus accessories, plus extra batteries are simply becoming overkill. I am starting to look into upgrading the Canon or simply not taking it with me on cruises. The TG4’s RAW capability and the S7’s (since upgraded to and S8+) camera proved to be quite sufficient on almost all conditions for what I needed. Although having two UW cameras for still pictures might be too much, it came into play later in the trip. As if that weren’t enough, I also took with me my Tycka Compact Travel Tripod (looking at a Gorillapod for next trip now) since I wanted to do some time-lapse videos with the action camera. An experiment that came out horrendous. It ended up being too much equipment for the activities weI did so I made the decision that this would be the last cruise hauling so much photo stuff. I am in no way a pro photographer. Just a photo enthusiast that sometimes has delusions of being Andy Warhol...lol!

 

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The thing is that I ended up using the tripod just once for a miserably failed attempt at a time lapse shoot leaving San Juan bay and the selfie stick once. I didn’t even install the windshield mount on the car while in St. Thomas. I think I’m going to start using the TG-4 a bit more to get the feeling of what it could do as a companion to my (now) S8+ cell phone, which is also capable of taking RAW images. That is, of course, IF I don’t end up getting a new mirror-less Olympus I got me eyes on before the next trip. Either way, I really need to figure out how to take less with me.

 

So, finally, tomorrow I get my taste of the Dawn!!

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Day 1: Embarkation day!!

 

So, as I said before, we live in Puerto Rico so getting to the terminal didn’t include flying in, a hotel stay or taxi rides (although on the last day it almost did!). We live in the town of Arecibo which is about an hour and 20 minutes west of San Juan. But my parents live in Carolina which is about 20 mins. from the pier so we decided to leave my car at their house and my dad would drive us to the terminal. Now, a few months ago I had spent a night at the Sheraton Convention Center hotel across the way from the pier (really about half a mile but they’re within eyesight of each other) and the next morning I saw a long traffic jam to get to the Pan American terminal since it’s a one lane in, one lane out street. Thinking about that traffic with just one ship (the Freedom) made me take an alternate route in, coming in from the back of the Convention Center which easily saved us over 30 minutes of traffic. Ahh the perks of knowing our way around the area!! Still, once on the terminal

access street we still got stuck in very slow-moving traffic to the terminal within sight of the ship.

 

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The Pan American terminal is divided into two almost identical buildings and when arriving to the side where the Dawn was docked you might get confused because you what you see behind the terminal doorway is the Freedom of the Seas and not the Dawn, which looks to be at the end of another building.

 

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Once we finally made it to the drop off area we noticed something that would come into play upon our return and it was that the drop off parking lot has only one entry/exit point and when cars picking up passengers and those dropping off meet, they have to take turns entering and exiting the small lot. So if a car is making its way out of the area, the ones coming in need to wait until that other car exits to be able to enter the lot. You can start to imagine how crazy this can get!. Add in that if you don’t come in taxis or Uber, signage for the terminals and which lot is used for what ship is basically nonexistent. Like I said, knowing the area helped us but I’m quite sure that the amount of locals that know which area belongs to what ship is very low. And the traffic mess was a sign of that. Fortunately, once at the terminal, the line to get inside wasn’t too bad at all.

 

This was basically at the back of the line, give or take a few people:

 

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A funny moment happened when we bumped into a coworker of DW and her husband and they were so surprised since neither knew the other was going on a cruise, let alone on the same one! It would be one of many instances we’d bump into them over the course of the week.

 

BTW… Doesn’t it seem that out of all the people you encounter on a ship over the course of a cruise, once you identify someone because of something specific, you keep running into them all over the place time and time again or am I just nuts??

 

Anyway…  At around 11:50am, a few short minutes after being dropped off,  we handed over our bags to the porters, right besides the door to the terminal. We gave them a tip and kept going.

 

Drops of wisdom: If you’re planning to take pictures once past the door (at least in the area where the metal detectors and X-ray machines are), DON’T. At least don’t do it in a way where you get caught. It is very frowned upon by port authority agents and they WILL let you know. I was wearing my Apeman A80 (GoPro clone) on one of the straps of my backpack and as soon as I turned for the door I was stopped and told not to film in that area. Already knowing about this restriction, I showed the agent that the camera was not recording at the time and she waved me by. Once you’re past security and in the check-in area and beyond, you’re ok.

 

I snuck in this picture of the screening area. Notice the guy in the far back, right corner? That’s NCL security (beverage confiscation scuad). So for those that are thinking of trying to sneak some booze by hiding it between screening and the desk I’d say you can forget it. They are within eyesight of the screening area and you’re basically guaranteed you’ll get busted. Kids: Don't try this at home!

 

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Once you pass screening you turn right and to the check-in area and once we arrived to the area, around 11:55am we noticed that there was no line!!!

 

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There were quite a lot of available agents and we waited like for a whopping 2 minutes to be directed to one. Once at the counter we handed over our passports and credit card and were told that since we had checked in online, all he had to do was scan the passport and card and we were good to go. But before we had to complete and sign a health questionnaire.

Although it takes you no more than 2-3 minutes to complete, it would’ve been better if they gave you the option of printing it out along with your Cruise Docs like Carnival does. We got our pictures taken, finished setting up our expense account (we had already done most of it online anyway), they gave us our ship cards and a ship map and sent us on our way.

 

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For those of you that ask or are interested in knowing: Yes... There is a liquor store inside the terminal but even if it's past the first checkpoint you still can't take it with you on the ship. Right as you exit this area there's more NCL personnel with a vigilant eye towards whoever comes out of the store.

 

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So, upwards and onward we go!

 

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About 20 minutes after stepping in line for the first time at the terminal, we were waiting to have our embarkation picture taken by the ships photographers at the worst possible spot. Right after the counter you cross two doorways and onto an escalator that takes you two floors up to the gangway. But the photographers posted themselves to either side of the second doorway, creating a syphon of people at the door that made it difficult to cross even for those not having their picture taken since when both photographers were taking a picture at the same time, they were almost back to back and you had to wait for them to get across. Terrible placement! We had our photo taken and up the escalators we went.

 

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Once at the gangway there was a balloon arch and we were greeted by smiling crewmembers and Caribbean music right on the promenade where they scanned our cards and where we had our first of many, many, MANY encounters with the “Washy, washy, happy, happy” brigade. Let me tell you NCL is apparently obsessed with having people wash their hands, especially upon entering the ship and anywhere near where food is served. They have crew with hand sanitizer spray bottles all over the buffet, near restaurants, when coming inside from the pool area and when coming aboard at any time. And yes, they do actually say “Washy, Washy…” all the time. It’s so funny!!

 

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We had decided to head straight to the buffet since we had been told at check-in that the rooms would not be available until 2pm. This started my week of culinary debauchery. You see, I had been on a Keto (very low carb) diet for the past 3 1/2 months and had lost a total of 43 pounds!! But I made the conscious (I didn’t say smart...) decision to not diet while on the cruise. So the first thing I put in my plate was a fat hamburger topped with pulled pork and swiss cheese. And it was quite good! Not Carnival’s Guy’s Burger Joint good but better than expected and better than the non-Guy’s burgers at ships that don’t have them (are there any left?). We also got some other varied things just to get a taste of what was ahead of us in the buffet.

 

I have to pause for a moment here but stay tuned...

 

Next up: Bring on the buffet food porn!! LOL

 

 

 

 

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Thank you so much for the comprehensive review!!! Can’t wait to read more. We love food porn,,, which is the focus of our reviews. We last sailed on the Dawn from Boston to Quebec and had a wonderful time. 

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We're doing this cruise in March, so I'm really looking forward to your review.

 

Your camera gear was pretty impressive, but, man, that's a lot to haul on a cruise.

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Thank you for your review. Any chance you can keep a more standard format? The font style and color make it difficult to read.    Thank you!

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13 hours ago, Stinger-pr said:

Oopss.... Messed up the formatting there at the end of the last post. Sorry!!

No, you didn’t. That was readable 

I love reading reviews and especially Dawn but I cannot read this with the format you are using 

Very pretty but please consider changing. Thank you

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2 hours ago, purpleally said:

No, you didn’t. That was readable 

I love reading reviews and especially Dawn but I cannot read this with the format you are using 

Very pretty but please consider changing. Thank you

X2

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17 hours ago, hladygirl said:

This font is horrible. I cannot read it. 

I gather that some of you are having trouble with the fonts. What platform are you using? It look fine on Windows 7 & 10 and Andorid 8.0 using the CC webpage. Although on Android, it keeps the color but changes the font to something like Arial or Times news. I might have to work on testing this.

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17 hours ago, BirdTravels said:

Thank you so much for the comprehensive review!!! Can’t wait to read more. We love food porn,,, which is the focus of our reviews. We last sailed on the Dawn from Boston to Quebec and had a wonderful time. 

That's an itinerary we're considering. Thank you for tagging along and I hope you enjoy the rest.

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17 hours ago, twicindi said:

We're doing this cruise in March, so I'm really looking forward to your review.

 

Your camera gear was pretty impressive, but, man, that's a lot to haul on a cruise.

Thank you for reading and for your compliments on the gear. But yes, I do have to tone the gear down a bit. Thinking about a few compromises for next time.

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15 hours ago, Kealy said:

Looking forward to reading more of your adventures onboard the Dawn.

Hope you enjoy the rest.

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6 hours ago, kruiserkatie said:

Thank you for your review. Any chance you can keep a more standard format? The font style and color make it difficult to read.    Thank you!

 

5 hours ago, purpleally said:

No, you didn’t. That was readable 

I love reading reviews and especially Dawn but I cannot read this with the format you are using 

Very pretty but please consider changing. Thank you

Thank you both for reading. I'll try to change the fonts a bit. Not sure why it works for some and not for others. What platform are you guys using?

2 hours ago, NJGeorge said:

X2

 

2 hours ago, SenatorsFan said:

I'm enjoying your review so far. The font looks fine on my laptop, but not on my phone.

Heather

Thank you!!

 

This changeover from CC has everything all messed up. The fonts are part of the "style" of my reviews but I guess I'm going to have to mess with it a bit.

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This is a font test. (CC on Windows)

 

This is a test! (C+P from Google Drive, rich text)

 

This is a test! (Plain text c+p from G drive, plain text)

 

Do any of those work for those that can't read the previous posts??

 

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25 minutes ago, kfnesq said:

Following along!  For the record, I don't mind the font at all. 

Thank you for following!

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I’m on an iPad Air and am having trouble reading your script font.

Looking forward to foodie pics and ship pics. 

We are considering sailing on the Dawn out of nyc. 

Thanks😎

 

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Just now, meatball_nyc said:

I’m on an iPad Air and am having trouble reading your script font.

Looking forward to foodie pics and ship pics. 

We are considering sailing on the Dawn out of nyc. 

Thanks😎

 

Scrip? Could it be that Apple users are experiencing the font different? I was using Comic Sans as font. Do you see script?

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Honestlythe best version is the plain black where you are asking the question about the previous posts....don' t mean to cramp your style!

 

I am on an ipad. All three of the test fonts look the same...they appear to be cursive which is what is creating the challenge in reading.  The navy color is an improvement over the color being used earlier in the post.

 

If I look at the review on a windows 10 computer,it looks fine. I think it is an iOS issue for those using Apple devices....

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28 minutes ago, kruiserkatie said:

Honestlythe best version is the plain black where you are asking the question about the previous posts....don' t mean to cramp your style!

 

I am on an ipad. All three of the test fonts look the same...they appear to be cursive which is what is creating the challenge in reading.  The navy color is an improvement over the color being used earlier in the post.

 

If I look at the review on a windows 10 computer,it looks fine. I think it is an iOS issue for those using Apple devices....

Same here, must be because of my ipad

I will power thru because I really want to read your review. I apologize for complaining 

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